A spiritual discipline I learnt some time ago at the School of Philosophy is resting the attention on the working surface and letting everything else go. I practised this at one of my temp jobs today, with an intriguing result.
I was working on a production line for environmental test kits: little swabs in a sealed test tube. My step in the assembly process was to insert the lid and attached swab into the test tube and close it. The machine then moved the test tube along to a press that stamped the lid down and sealed it shut. I had to shift the focus of my attention about once a second, as the working surface changed from my left hand picking up a new swab and transferring it to my right hand, to the swab sliding down the inside of the test tube, to the lid closing against the top of the tube.
I observed a fascinating phenomenon for the brief periods when I kept my attention solely on these working surfaces and abandoned thoughts of morning tea or the novel I'm reading. My perception of time slowed down dramatically: the machine kept stepping the test tubes along at the same rate, but the apparent time per step seemed to double. Stopping the daydreams and focussing only on the present moment freed up so much perceived time that I felt like a character in the Matrix.
This is great, but I'll need to learn two things. Firstly, how to remain in the fully alert state for more than five or ten seconds at a time. Secondly, how to apply a high level of attention to creative or mental activities, rather than just repetitive physical ones.